Friday, April 9, 2010

eBooks and Agency Model

There has been a lot of hoopla about the supposed "agency model" for eBooks. It's a simple problem actually when you boil it down.

A publisher creates an eBook, and it is sold by other companies. Typical eBook sellers include Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and recently Apple (for the iPad). In the past the folks that mostly controlled how eBooks work are the sellers, such as Amazon. This makes sense in a way. Amazon makes the Kindle, so it's not surprising that they were mostly in control of what can go on the Kindle. More importantly though, they were mostly in control of the pricing scheme. If you wanted your books to be on the Kindle, you had to play by Amazon's rules.

Lately however there have been more folks getting into the eBook world. One of the biggest of course is Apple with their iPad. This means that publishers have more options, which means they can stand up to the pricing models they don't like. So if a publisher doesn't like the way Amazon prices things, they can make a stink about it and try to get it changed. This then requires the publisher and Amazon to sit down and formulate some sort of contract and pricing scheme that both can agree on. This of course takes longer than if the publisher was willing to just take Amazon's canned pricing solution.

So really it's a supply and demand thing. There was very little supply of eBook sellers and devices to put those eBooks on, so Amazon could control the market. Now there is a high supply of devices and sellers, therefore the publishers have more power to control the market.

In order for publishers to convince Amazon that they do have power, they sometimes need to flex and show that they mean business. This may mean refusing to let certain books or groups of books be sold through Amazon. In a way it is similar to a strike. Amazon of course can show their power back and pull books also. It creates a tug of war.

In addition to that there are actual legal issues also. If Amazon and a publisher make an agreement on how to sell something, but the backend technology is not capable of handling that particular setup, it will take time for the code changes to be implemented. If there isn't wording in their contract for books to be sold the old way until the new way can get technically implemented, then this may result in certain eBooks being pulled for a while.

This can of course annoy many people involved. Customers are unable to buy books, and writers are unable to sell books. This also makes many people less trusting of eBooks. They are the unintended victims of this battle. Some customers want to show their displeasure with the situation by refusing to buy books from certain publishers.

I personally do not feel that boycotting sellers or publishers is a good way to show your displeasure. Getting angry at authors is no solution either. Authors have very little power in this entire situation, it is between publishers and sellers. Refusing to buy books just means you will not be reading books you enjoy, and authors get punished. Voicing your opinion and displeasure at the delays is important, and it may be wise to write letters to sellers or publishers encouraging them to bring the battles to a quick close, but there is no need to direct your anger at authors.

My personal suggestion is to wait it out. Both sides are trying to get to a solution. It is in their best interests to keep the eBook community's trust in the eBook format strong. It is also in their best interests to keep selling books. I do like instant gratification, and often times want my book the exact moment I click the "buy" button. However if I think back just a few years ago, I was living an hours drive away from the nearest bookstore and didn't have access to eBooks. I would often times have to wait a few weeks before I could get a ride to the bookstore to pickup whatever books they happened to have in stock. The bookstore could charge whatever they wanted for the books, because that is the store I had access to.

No comments: